Jacket Copy

Books, authors and all things bookish

« Previous | Jacket Copy Home | Next»

HarperCollins' 26-checkout limit on libraries' ebooks starts today

In late February, HarperCollins announced that its ebooks could be checked out by library patrons 26 times, after which a library would need to re-purchase the ebook in order to lend it out again to its patrons (again, for a maximum of 26 times). That 26-checkout limit begins today.

The outcry against HarperCollins' move was so strong that the publisher felt compelled to issue a explanatory statement, saying that it had "been listening." Although it made no move to change the 26-checkout policy, that statement explained the decision:

Our prior e-book policy for libraries dates back almost 10 years to a time when the number of e-readers was too small to measure. It is projected that the installed base of e-reading devices domestically will reach nearly 40 million this year. We have serious concerns that our previous e-book policy, selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book eco-system, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors.

Some library consortia have responded by declining to purchase new HarperCollins ebooks, Library Journal reports today. "The library model has always been you purchase and own it for perpetuity, and I don't think the format should matter as long as rights are being protected," Joan Kuklinski, the executive director of the Central/Western Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing consortium, told Library Journal. "No one tells a library they have to pull their books off the shelf after a certain number of circulations, so why should this be different?"

The video above, created by the Pioneer Library System of Oklahoma, shows why many librarians think ebooks shouldn't expire. Although the 26-checkout figure was based on what experts said was the average life expectancy for a book on a shelf, these librarians show that in their library system, popular books that have been checked out many more times are doing just fine.

The arguments get into somewhat arcane detail -- library consortia, cost-per-circulation figures -- but the upshot is that librarians are frustrated by the hurdles they face in offering ebooks. Is HarperCollins the biggest issue? Not really. Macmillan and Simon & Schuster -- two other of the big six publishing houses -- have not yet offered ebooks of their titles to libraries at all.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Comments () | Archives (13)

The comments to this entry are closed.

HarperCollins are jerks.

"No one tells a library they have to pull their books off the shelf after a certain number of circulations, so why should this be different?"

I understand the library's position, but a book circulated 26 times is going to start falling apart and may not make it back all those times.

"these librarians show that in their library system, popular books that have been checked out many more times are doing just fine"

Because the damaged ones are gone or have been rebound. To be sure, if every patron treats the book well, it may last more than 26 times, but I doubt most hold up to that many circs. Moreover, there is one aspect the librarian doesn't mention: how many library books are now leased, rather than bought outright--especially bestsellers that would have this level of circulation.

Libraries often need many copies of fashionable books in the short run, but don't want to buy them because they won't remain popular for more than a few months. These best-sellers are leased, and the copies don't hold up at all, as they are meant to be almost disposable (unlike the more expensive library editions that do have superior binding).

I don't think Harper's action is unreasonable. Print is dying as it is, and if librarians want those permanent printed copies to keep coming, they need to recognize these electronic editions are helping kill them.

This is what happens when you get too cozy with the corporate giants. Now they want to control a thing you've already purchased from them; pretty soon they will be snooping on readers and requiring them to read ads hidden in text. Eventually the ebook business will be controlled by one company that will also own all text and the right to use it. Libraries are foolish if they cooperate in this venture. Those that do are drunk on the Koolaid of flashy technology and have forgotten their primary role.

As a librarian, I have to admit I see HarperCollins' position. Library books have a shelf life, and e-books do not. They won't get worn down, drawn in, have pages missing, or just plain old get stolen. 26 circs is not unreasonable for a hardback book, and paperbacks often fall apart LONG before then.

As long as they cost the same or less they should have some sort of duration, or else HarperCollins won't have any repeat business for that book. Publishers need to make money to survive. They aren't a charity.

The incentive to allow my publisher to give libraries access to my work in eBook format doesn’t make economic sense.
Gil Lefebvre
Author of: Not Too Far To Have Never Been (Not available in libraries)

"No one tells a library they have to pull their books off the shelf after a certain number of circulations, so why should this be different?"

Hardcover and paperback books wear out and have to be replaced, resulting in new sales. Ebooks do not wear out. So, to make resales, an expiration date is being set. This is fair because books of whatever sort need to be sold repeatedly for publishing to work. Books that never expire would mean no need for republication.

Actually, 26 'circulations' for a book is quite low. Usually, a hardback will go out 80-100 times before it begins to fall apart, unless it was poorly made or has has been treated poorly. Paperbacks are lower, of course.

regardless-- without meaasure L passing on the election tomorrow, no one is going to be able to get any books period.

I think this starts only a longer discussion.

Three random questions:
Why should I pay again to get an e-book version of a book that I already own, for example. I can sell my used books, but when is an e-book used and do I have the license to own it only or to re-sell it?
Does this theme expand:
Why should I pay for a download of a movie that I already own on BluRay etc.
I think this needs to be cleared, for all media that can be digitized.

Back to the library: is it possible for them to swap out the paper version to an e-book version? Do 'we' buy the product or the content?

My library does not lease any of it's materials - the cost was far too high for a book we did not own. We buy all of our books - the best sellers and the lesser knowns. We get an incredible number of donations from our generous patrons - not enough to supply the library, of course - but enough to help us with the more popular titles.

If you could read any book electronically for free through a library, why would you ever buy another book? It would be Napster for books, except legal. The publishing business would collapse. It would be even more difficult to make a living as a writer. No business is obligated to facilitate its own demise.

The point is that some of us rely on borrowing books from the library for free. We can't afford to purchase books but love to read!
Why should it be more expensive for libraries to acquire ebooks than print books?
Ebooks are more 'green'; i.e. they don't require the death of trees.
Fighting the progress of technology is silly.
Publishers should allow libraries to purchase ebooks for longer than 26 check-outs!!!
There are too many authors unavailable as ebooks and I deeply resent it!
No one is saying that libraries should be able to acquire ebooks for free (ala napster) but the smart publishers will hopefully ease-up on the restrictions!
Ereading is here to stay......get over it!!!

woof-woof....people already read print books for free from the library - that's the point of borrowing a book from the library...!!!
They don't buy the books, they borrow them for free.
How is it any different if they borrow ebooks from the library?


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


Explore Bestsellers Lists





Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.